The other week, I got home and noticed a cocoon in the bush outside my apartment.  I looked closer and watched a caterpillar collecting pine needles off the bush.  I realized that I had never seen this before.  I had never actually witnessed a caterpillar building a cocoon.  I couldn’t take my eyes away.  I stood in front of the bush for what seemed like twenty minutes, completely in awe.  I snapchatted the construction of the cocoon like I was working for the Discovery Channel.

If you had asked me before I saw this, I would have told you that I was an expert on metamorphosis.  I had read The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Ten Little Caterpillars.  I had understood every time someone had used a metamorphosis reference and I had used many myself.  I knew about caterpillars and I knew about metamorphosis.  But, seeing it was totally different.  I smiled walking into my apartment knowing that I was going to get to experience a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

As a new graduate and when I’ve learned something new, I’ve fallen victim to this same problem.  I’ve confused knowing something with experiencing it and then I’ve focused so much energy on knowing something that I’ve neglected to experience it.  I’ve unintentionally expected knowing everything to be more effective than doing anything.  Yet, there is no replacement for experience.  Instead of worrying about my width of knowledge, I now try to focus on my depth of understanding.  The only way to gain depth is through experience and I constantly try to remind myself of this every time I learn something new.

Dig deeper, not wider

You don’t need to know everything.  You need to know enough to begin applying it.  The foundation will need width, but without depth, there isn’t much support.  I often focused more on how large and wide my foundation was before considering how deep it went.  But, mastery comes from both knowledege and experience.

I’m not saying to build something from Ikea without looking at the instructions, but at some point, you’re going to have to tackle the 181 piece bookcase.

You gain confidence by doing

The reason we want to know everything before we do anything is because initially we lack confidence.  The only way to gain confidence, however, is to act by applying the knowledge we do have.

When I first went to my first SFMA course, I was enthralled with everything that I learned.  I implemented some of it, but I wanted to know more… and more… and more.  I felt inadequate with what I knew and felt that I needed to learn more before I was good at the system.   Then I learned more and did not feel any more comfortable performing it.  The comfort and confidence came from experiencing it and then reflecting on both the successes and shortcomings of my experience.

Experiencing something makes you learn faster

I tend to want all the answers before I even figure out what questions to ask.  Yes, I could get all the answers first and work my way backward, but the learning would not be as deep.  We learn from struggling.  When we learn something new, we always realize that we need to learn more. There is nothing wrong with this, but a better way to identify what we need to learn is by doing it and experiencing what we don’t know.  With the SFMA, I didn’t need to learn more exercises like I originally thought.  I needed to be able to synthesize and prioritize the information to choose the most appropriate treatment plan.

In the case of the caterpillar… well, it wasn’t a caterpillar.  It was an evergreen bagworm and it wasn’t making a cocoon to become a butterfly.  According to Wikipedia, the bagworm was not becoming a butterfly and is largely considered a pest.  Knowing about metamorphosis, but never experiencing it caused me to spend 20 minutes documenting a bagworm killing my evergreen.


Do you need to know more or experience more?

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